Ferocious foursome

Alfred Williams

• 1990 Butkus Award winner

• Two-time first team All-American, unanimous pick in 1990

• Two-time Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year

Kanavis McGhee

• Three-time All-American

• Three-time All-Big Eight first team

Chad Brown

• Second-team All-American in 1992

• Two-time All-Big Eight selection

Greg Biekert

• Two-time All Big Eight selection

• Second all-time leading tackler in school history

The University of Colorado has seen its fair share of talented linebackers come through Boulder.

During the Buffs' run to the national title in 1990, the linebackers were on another level.

On the outside, the Buffs had Alfred Williams, who won the Butkus Award and was a two-time All-American, and Kanavis McGhee, who was named an All-American three times. Williams was also elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

But on the inside, the Buffs had plenty of younger talent to complement the senior stars on the outside.

"It was intimidating at first," former CU linebacker Chad Brown said. "I came from California and thought I knew high-level football. CU had these physical and athletic linebackers in Alfred and Kanavis. It was quite intimidating."


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Brown, who played the inside spot along with Greg Biekert, was a redshirt sophomore on the 1990 championship team. Brown recorded 106 total tackles that season, which was second on the team, while sophomore Biekert led with 150. McGhee and Williams ranked fourth and fifth on the team.

"The reality was that I may have been the worst athlete on that defense," said Biekert, who played 11 years in the NFL. "There were quality players everywhere — on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. When you have that quality of players, it makes you rev up your game."

Both Brown and Biekert came to CU to play outside linebacker, which gave them a chance to sit in the meeting room with Williams, McGhee and linebacker coach Bob Simmons.

"Here I was just a kid from Longmont and I am learning from two guys that are All-Americans," said Biekert, who played at Longmont High School.

"You had to raise your game to play at their level," Brown said. "You had to be as physical as them. I always wanted to compete and be the best linebacker on the field."

The defense as a whole during the 1990 season was full of NFL talent. The unit recorded 41 sacks, which was powered by Williams' team-high 12 ½ . The Buffs forced 16 fumbles that season and picked off 18 passes. Several players, including all four linebackers, played in the NFL. Brown, Biekert, Williams and McGhee combined for 40 years of NFL experience. Players like Deon Figures, Leonard Renfro, Ron Bradford, Garry Howe and Joel Steed were all big contributors on the defense who went on to play in the NFL.

"Our linebackers were just an amazing group," Brown said. "It is definitely up there with some of the best ever."

The culture of winning helped drive Brown, Biekert and the rest of the team. Players knew coach Bill McCartney was building something special and they wanted to be part of it.

"We never lost sight of our goal," Brown said. "We started that season 1-1-1 and we were losing at Texas. It all could have slipped away. But we regrouped because we knew we had what it took."

Biekert feels the closeness of the team put the Buffs over the top. Players dealt with the death of quarterback Sal Aunese from cancer in 1989.

"We went through a lot together," he said. "A lot of us knew Sal and always felt like we were playing for him. We were able to fulfill what we set out to do from the beginning of the season."

Chris Schmaedeke: 303-473-1303, schmaedekec @dailycamera.com